Thursday, 29 September 2011

Guano shed

The other day I rode to see a ruined Guano shed, that lies just south of Alnmouth.

The building dates from the 18th century, Guano was imported as a fertiliser, and because of its smell it was stored as far as possible from the harbour (goodness knows how the sailors coped on the voyage). But in 1806 a fierce storm caused the river Aln to change direction. Alnmouth church and cemetery were cut off from the village, and Alnmouth harbour silted up. After that the Guano shed was re-used as a barn.

It would be nice to describe this as being a bit of a sh*t destination. But that wouldn't be right, although there's not much left of the shed. Even the bit of roof mentioned in the official listing seems to have disappeared. The location is interesting though. It should be possible to scramble over the high dunes to reach the beach (I didn't attempt this). There are fine views of Alnmouth over the estuary. You can still see quite clearly where the old course of the river has silted up. There is also a view of a ruined chapel that was built in an attempt to re-open the cemetery on Church Hill after the river changed course.

Alnmouth from south of the river
From a personal point of view this has satisfied a long-standing itch. I've been visiting Alnmouth since I was knee-high to a thrupenny bit, I've looked over the river many times, and wondered what it was like on the other side. But I'd never been there. And now I have.

National Cycle Route 1 runs parallel to the A1068 between Warkworth and Lesbury. Just north of the turning to High Buston there is a track that leads east to the dunes. This has a pretty rough surface, and I wouldn't suggest riding it on a highly tuned road bike. But it was OK on a touring bike, and it should be fine on anything with a bit of suspension. The map is here, but you can see more of the ruins, dunes and beach from a satellite (the row of dots along the back of the beach are anti-tank defences from WW-II)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A proper ride (at last)

This afternoon I took off for what I think qualifies as my first proper ride in months.

I don't think of it as a proper ride because of the distance (which was only a little more than other recent outings). Nor because it was particularly strenuous (I was working quite hard at times, but I really ought to accept this as the norm, and stop going on about it).

It qualifies as a proper ride because I set off to explore some familiar places, and as with all the best outings, I ended up finding some which were unexpected.

One of my destinations was Warkworth - a pretty town, well known for its imposing castle, its Norman bridge and church and the views along the main street. I've been there many times, but I've only cycled through once. I've never explored away from the main sights, and main routes. This time I entered the town along the conventional route, but I left heading westwards.

Warkworth is almost completely surrounded by the River Coquet, and the road I chose crosses it via a ford. I chose this route partly because I enjoy riding through fords. Like riding through puddles, it appeals to my inner child. But the others that I've ridden through have only been small. This is more of a grown-up ford. It looked very wide - wide enough that I couldn't judge how deep it was in the middle. And it looked as though it was going to be slippery.

I had second thoughts, and considered using the footbridge. But then, surely the river must be relatively low at the moment. What's the worst that could happen? An hour's ride home, soaking wet, covered in mud didn't seem too awful a prospect. I asked myself: man or a mouse? or otter?

I decided to risk it.

I took it steady, and tried to stick to the tracks left by cars, because they seemed less slippery.

The first third was fine. After that the water was deep enough to be coming over my feet as I pedalled. I couldn't see any clear tracks to follow. The wheels were starting to slide about a bit.

An hour's ride home, soaking wet, covered in mud was beginning to look quite likely. But the worst didn't happen. I managed to stay upright, and I kept pedalling. With the exception of my feet, I had a dry ride home.

And although I've ridden past an imposing castle, a Norman bridge and church and I've again seen the lovely views along Warkworth main street, it's the experience of crossing the ford that I will remember.

Postscript - the ford was originally tagged "highway=ford" on OSM. That's in line with the recommended approach, and the way that I would have done it. Routing seems to work OK, but the ford itself wasn't rendering. So it looked as though there was a gap in the road on Mapnik and OCM. I know we shouldn't tag for the render, but because this ford is so long the gap was obvious (and misleading). I've changed the tagging to "highway=minor, ford=yes" with a node where it cross the centre of the river tagged "highway=ford, ford=yes". I'm hoping that this will provide more appropriate rendering, while maintaining a record of "what is on the ground". We will see, and if anyone has a better alternative the link is here.

Monday, 26 September 2011

One real, and one virtual ride

My brother visited us for the weekend. He brought some cycling clothes, and the two of us managed to get out for a couple of rides. One of them was just to check that my spare bike was in good working order. That one is hardly worth counting. This morning we were a bit (not much) more ambitious.

Nice views, fine weather, quiet roads, and good company made for a very pleasant ride of a couple of hours. However, both of us are a bit out of practice. We went further than we had planned but not quite as far as the coast.

After lunch my brother left us to head home. At that point I could have worked on reducing our long list of things that need to be done. On reflection, my wife and I decided that it made a lot more sense to go for a walk along the coast instead.

We headed north of Boulmer, and followed part of the coastal path, which here doubles as National Cycle Route 1. This part of the path runs past a series of lovely, secluded sandy bays. There are views up the coast to Dunstanburgh castle, and quite a variety of of sea birds to watch.

It's more than two years since I cycled this way. It's a lovely ride, and now we don't live so far away I should be able to ride it more often. But having said that, this part of the path is also a pleasure to walk. It's slower on foot of course, and you can't cover as much ground as you can on a bike. But it's easier on foot to get down to the beach, splodge through the sand and scramble over the rocks.

In brief, today I've fitted in both a nice ride, and a nice walk. I've seen several different types of seabird that I cannot name, And I've recalled a good ride from a couple of years ago. That adds up to a pretty successful day. Oh, and I also set up our new phone. The rest of the to-do list will wait.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

One less excuse

It was a short, but pleasant ride over to the local bike shop this morning. I returned with a new chain on the touring bike, and a basic frame pump. They fitted the chain, and adjusted the indexing while I waited. The pump will replace the one that was liberated from the hybrid before we moved.

I asked about the best local rides, and the advice they gave is starting to sound familiar. The suggestion is to start by heading northwards along the coast (which is as flat as it gets). As I get better at dealing with the hills, I should work towards the more dramatic landscape further west.

It was a nice ride this morning. The local bike shop was very friendly, and helpful. But it was hardly a challenging ride. With a new chain, a promise of good weather, and a bit of a hold-up on the work front, I really must stop procrastinating, and get myself off for a bit more of a stretch.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Catwalk report

I realise that visitors to Tlatet are far too polite to ask, but I can tell from coverage in today's papers that at the start of London Fashion Week there must be considerable interest in what I wore for this morning's ride.

Starting at the top...
  • A threadbare cotton jumper, over a dark blue shirt. The shirt could be from almost anywhere, and probably is, but the jumper isn't just any jumper. It's a green Marks and Spencer jumper. I like to think of it as an understated tribute to Yehuda Moon
  • My trousers were dark blue cords, accented by patches of brown. I adapted these few months ago when I was a bit careless stripping varnish from some old furniture, without bothering to change into something that was even more appropriate for a messy job. They have been washed many times since - it must have been good varnish.
  • On my feet I wore an old pair of brown casual shoes, bought, as far as I remember, from a Clarks discount outlet (it was a long time ago). They recently acquired some splashes of white when we were painting the garden shed.
As I was cycling this morning, I did make a couple of special adjustments. On the rare occasions that I come off the bike I tend to bang my head, so it always seems like a good idea to wear a helmet. And to stop my trousers getting tangled in the chain I wore my lucky reflective cycle clips.

Clearly this is not a look that anyone can just go and buy off the shelf. It has taken years of refinement. So having achieved something close to sartorial perfection I don't vary it much. I didn't have to change this afternoon to take rubbish to the tip. Apart from a clean shirt, socks etc., I wore the same yesterday for taking down some shelves, and the day before for some light gardening. I suspect that little will be different tomorrow. That is, unless the jumper or trousers have to disappear into the wash, in which case I will be thrown into confusion.

Postscript: afterwards we found most of the missing parts of our shutters up in the loft, covered in decades of debris. After scrabbling around to get them down through the hatch, today's outfit did go into the washing, and I've scrubbed up.

A long half hour

Despite a forecast of rain, this morning turned out to be beautiful. I had intended to take a couple of loads to the tip, then move some of the clutter around so that we will be ready to strip another room next week.

However, I was told (in fairly strong terms) not to be so silly, and to get out on the bike for "half an hour".

In reality that turned into a two hour ride, heading (more or less) directly north, then retracing the same route back. The first part of the ride crosses a valley, but beyond that it's about as flat things get around here. For the furthest part of the ride I was on the Sustrans cycle route that follows the Northumberland coast, but at that point it runs some way in land, so there were only occasional glimpses of the sea.

One of our new neighbours does a bit of cycling locally, and they have suggested three approaches to deal with the hills. Option one: get used to them. Option two: stick the bike in the car and take it somewhere flat,  and option three: explore the area I chose today. To the extent that I have a plan, it's to follow a mix of all three.

Although today's ride was fairly flat, there was a bit of a headwind on the way back. I felt that I was having to work quite hard, but that's probably more to do with a lack of practice. Apart from the wind, the weather was near perfect. It was clear and sunny, but quite cool - particularly early on. The countryside was looking nice, and I diverted through a couple of pretty villages. For the more dramatic landscapes I will either have to head over some bigger hills, or get further along the coastal route, where it is nearer to the sea, and you get more than glimpses of the coast.

Traffic wasn't too bad. I was on reasonably quiet roads, by local standards, and they are a lot quieter than I was used to in the Thames valley. There were only a few other cyclists around: a couple who looked as though they were touring, and some who looked like locals cycling to the shop. Quite properly, greetings were exchanged with every cyclist I passed, as well as with most pedestrians and bystanders.